For almost a century (but a little longer if we consider the settlement of the Alabama claims on 14 September 1872), Geneva has been an important diplomatic centre for world affairs. Unsurprisingly, both the city and the canton are proud of this heritage and they are very active as regards preserving (or even promoting) this core component of Geneva’s international prestige and wealth. This includes the protection of the many top government officials and sometimes heads of state who come to Geneva for matters related to diplomacy.
Three weeks ago, John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, was in Geneva to hold talks with Mohammad Javad Zarif Khonsari, Iran’s Foreign Minister. The talks were being held in a hotel roughly a kilometre away from my office, so that I could hear the helicopters of the police hovering around the area. The noise did bother me a little as I was trying to concentrate on an important task (my office was on the fourth floor in a building located near the lake so that we could hear the helicopters doing their rounds quite distinctly), but like most Genevese I accepted the inconvenience as the price to pay for the important role Geneva plays in world affairs through its international organisations or through the staging of top diplomatic events.
After work, I had to go to the other side of town, across the lake, to meet up with my father. It is almost faster to do so on foot than by public transport, anyhow I simply love walking. So I stepped out of the office and crossed Pont du Mont-Blanc and then headed towards the Rues Basses. Little was I expecting to find the street I had intended to take cordoned off by scores of police officers, some carrying machine guns and some even wearing the type of anti-terrorist gear we had seen on TV in relation to the Paris attacks a few days earlier. However, given the lack of agitation on the part of the police officers and the number of motorcycles and cars parked, I knew that I had before me John Kerry’s motorcade. I assumed that he had gone in the famous cigar shop just next to where all the vehicles were parked.
Wrong guess: from the number of police officers and bodyguards that were standing in front of a famous chocolatier a few metres away, I reached the conclusion that the US Secretary of State must have gone shopping for a product that is more readily associated with Switzerland, chocolates. Then all of a sudden, a police van passed in front of the small crowd of people who had been asked to stand on the other side of Rue de Rive; another did so and then a SUV. Finally, a limousine stopped almost right opposite me and a police officer dressed like an anti-terrorist commando took position nearby to neutralise any potential threat from the building above us.
We had to wait several minutes before Mr John Kerry stepped out of the chocolatier – I even heard somebody grumble something about how could it be that it was taking him so long to come out of the shop given that he had already been in there for 20 minutes. I have no idea whether it was true. If so, it must have caused some disruption to the public transport system because this street is normally used by two major tram lines and in fact I could see a tram a little in the distance waiting to be given the green light to resume its course. Finally, Kerry came out of the shop and waved to the crowd before he disappeared into the limousine.
To my surprise, most of the police officers vacated the spot only a few seconds later. Strangely, John Kerry’s limo remained stationed with no police officers nearby for at least a good minute (so as to allow the front vehicles of the motorcade to leave and secure the passage for Kerry’s car). I suppose that the limousine was designed to withstand an assault conducted with automatic weapons or even the blast caused by a hand grenade and that, as such, it is deemed sufficiently safe to do without the support of police officers.
Whatever the reason for this seeming lack of close protection of the US diplomatic limousine, I felt that the mobilisation of so many police officers simply for the US Secretary of State to buy a box of chocolates for his wife was a little excessive, shall I say?
But this does not really matter; what matters is that Mr Kerry does not promise any direct involvement of the US in the Ukrainian crisis when he meets today the Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko because the consequences of such action could be disastrous for Europe and even for the rest of the world.
- ‘Le quai Turrettini fermé à cause de Kerry et Zarif’, Tribune de Genève, 14 January 2015